I feel like I’m doing something wrong. I’ve dated this guy for a year and I’ve always had this nagging feeling I shouldn’t be. He’s married and poly but he wasn’t always poly. His wife doesn’t approve but deals with it because what else can she do. They’re married and she loves him. I know it hurts her to see him with other people so it makes me feel guilty being with him but i know if he weren’t with me he’d be with someone else so it wouldn’t matter either way because it’ll never be just them.

I think a better way to frame this is not what you owe her - the logic that if you leave him, he’ll just date someone else, so it doesn’t matter - but whether this is kind of arrangement is healthy for you. Having someone else’s grudging barely-consent, pain, and bitterness hanging at the emotional periphery of your relationship seems like it’s really bothering you. Which is a perfectly valid reaction to this situation! It’s very okay to set the limit for yourself that you’ll only date people who are in healthy, fully consensual, mutually happy polyamorous arrangements. If you’re in a relationship and a major aspect of that relationship is making you feel bad, then it’s not a good relationship for you! End of story. 

Hi! Im writing an article/story about a poly relationship between 3 boys and 1 girl. Could you possibly give me information on how a relationship between 4 people like living in the same house and sharing a bed would be like?

First off, awesome job reaching out to do interviews and research for your writing - too many writers rely on assumptions and stereotypes to write about any minority population, and it’s bad for everyone.

I can’t actually give you that information, because I don’t live that life. If you’d like to interview some people living with multiple partners, I recommend that you draw up a list of questions you’d like the answers to, then put them out there to have people in the poly community share their answers. You can send it here, post it in the poly tags, post it to r/polyamory, etc.

I also recommend reading up about polyamory - you’ll want to know what the different terms are, exactly what kind of poly relationship is it (is it a closed/polyfidelitous quad, or are the people dating in separate linked pairs?), and things like that. You can get lots of examples of the types of challenges poly families face and things like that from blogs and articles that are already out there. Check out my list of resources here to start!

Tonight I told my primary that I was pursuing someone else and asked if she was ok with that. She says “yeah”, then I see her vague-blog about it with “Fuck you, I wanted to be your only one.” I’m…pissed. Plz tell me how to handle this.

If any of that is a dealbreaker for you - the “fuck you,” the vagueblogging, the trust-eroding passive-aggression of saying something is okay and then being angry about it, or not wanting you to have other partners - leave this relationship.

If this isn’t something you want to end a relationship over, the best way to handle it is to have an open conversation: “Hey, you told me things were okay, but then I saw a post on your blog later that concerned me. Can we talk about this?” 

Make sure to discuss issues separately: first, ask whether they really are okay with you pursuing someone else. If they say yes, ask what the issue is with the blog post. If they say no, ask why they said yes when they meant no, and talk about how to prevent serious communication issues like that in the future.

Next, talk about the blogging: tell them it really hurt your feelings to read that, and that you need them to commit to not doing that anymore. Whatever you’re most hurt by - the “fuck you,” or the fact that they shared your relationship business with their blog friends instead of bringing it up with you, etc. - be clear about that, and why it was hurtful.

If they are apologetic and can commit to being honest with you rather than using passive-aggressive vagueblogging, you can go back to working on the larger issue of how non-monogamy is going to work between you two. If not, think about whether this is something you can tolerate or whether it’s a core issue in your relationship.

Can a poly relationship have one person who is dating 2 people but the 2 people aren’t dating each other, say person A is dating person B and person C but B isn’t dating C. is that considered a good/healthy poly relationship?

Yes. That is called V or Vee shaped polyamory. 

There is no canonical list somewhere of what is “considered” good or healthy. Some configurations work for some people but would be unhealthy and unfulfilling for others. Don’t let anyone tell you that your way of living and loving needs to be validated by anyone else. If it’s working for you, it’s working for you. 

Please help me. Is polyamory similar to an orientation? what is it exactly? is wanting to be in a polyamorous relationship something you choose or just happens. I’m sorry if this doesn’t make sense. I’m just really confused about myself right now.

This is actually a very controversial topic within the polyamorous community! I fall pretty firmly on the side of thinking that it’s an orientation - that some people are just happier, healthier, and better fulfilled in monogamous relationships, and some in polyamorous relationships, and some can go either way. I do think that for many people, any innate polyamorous-ness goes unrecognized and unfulfilled by social messages.

But many people disagree with me, some vehemently (Dan Savage is a notable voice in this regard). Many believe that it’s a choice or a behavior, a way of doing things rather than a way of being. And people on both sides feel very strongly about this and associate their position on it with serious political and identity issues. So it’s okay to feel confused, and it’s okay to read dissenting voices and figure out which interpretation best fits your experiences.

So my girlfriend (K)’s other lover (D) is constantly trying to get her to break up with me, and being emotionally manipulative on the verge of abusive to her. D’s not ok with being poly, but she knew that me and k were together before she got involved. K has already said she doesn’t want a relationship with D because she’s not good for her mental health. It seems so simple to me that she should break contact because their relationship is harmful. But they’re in love so… It’s difficult. Any advice?

You have your picture of what’s going on: D is being abusive, manipulative, and unhealthy for K. But it’s not clear that K shares this perspective. You say that K agrees with you and doesn’t want a relationship with D, but for her own reasons, K has yet to break up with D. That tells me that there’s something else going on. K may be telling you what she thinks you want to hear rather than what she really thinks, or her definition of “in love” may not jive with yours - it’s worth sussing those out through open communication.

This is a really tricky situation, but the thing to remember is that you can’t control another person’s choices, nor can you change their worldview. If your girlfriend has her reasons for staying with her other parter, those reasons are real to her, even if they aren’t apparent or rational from your perspective. If you start pressuring K to leave her other partner before she’s ready, you risk becoming part of the problem. Be an active listener and do your best to find out what K is feeling and needing in this situation. It can be hard, but try to speak into her reality with support and validation rather than trying to drag her into yours.

If it turns out that K really doesn’t want to leave D right now because her definition of “in love” allows for what’s going on between her and D, and that trumps her desire to be free of this toxic relationship, you can’t change that. You can only decide how close to this situation you are willing to be, for your own personal health. If it turns out that K does want to leave D but feels she can’t because of fear, concern, insecurity, or other issues, find out what she needs from you to support her through this, and do your best to make the exit safe and healthy for her. Remember that you have an outsider’s perspective, and what seems obvious to you may be hard for K to see if she has been manipulated.

I’ve been in a mono relationship for about a year now, but I’m poly. My boyfriend knows I’m poly, but at the start of the relationship we decided that it’d stay mono. I’ve recently fallen for several people, and not being able to express my poly side is almost painful in a way - how do you suggest talking to my boyfriend about opening up the relationship without making him feel offended or insecure that I’m losing my feelings for him? Thanks!

You’re in a tough situation, because you made an agreement at the beginning of the relationship that you want to alter the terms of. Your boyfriend may feel blindsided or even betrayed, which is something you want to minimize. I would recommend against bringing this up in the context of you having fallen for other people recently. That runs the risk of making it about your desire to be with other people besides your boyfriend, when the real issue is that you want the freedom to live into your full self as a poly person.

My advice would be to go slowly and gently when bringing this up. Focus on the fact that you’ve been together for a year, and things are going well. Relationships change, and people change, and that’s a good thing - there is no growth without change. Tell your boyfriend that you’d like to revisit the question of a polyamorous practice now that you two are more secure in your relationship. Make it an open conversation about the issue rather than an immediate request. 

Be clear that this isn’t about you losing feeling for him, or feeling unfulfilled - rather, that you’re so happy and fulfilled in this relationship that you think it might be healthy enough to absorb the risk of trying this new thing. Check in with him and make sure he has space to respond. Maybe he still feels exactly the same way as he did a year ago and wants to hold you to your original commitment. In that case, you have a decision to make - is the sacrifice worth it? Only you can say for yourself. Or, maybe he’s willing to entertain the thought - in which case, you have a new set of challenges to face together.

Good luck!

I don’t know what is going on with my primary, we’ve been seeing each other for over a month, and we were on fire now this:
 I saw [Primary] last night and he’s still really distant…he cuddled me but he was really cold…
When I asked him what was up he said he was okay and nothing was wrong or on his mind…
So I don’t know he isn’t very lovey he doesn’t send me cute pictures like he used to or send me emoticons and he won’t call me his girl anymore :-/ How do I read that?

I can’t tell you how to read into another person’s behavior, because I’m not psychic. Nobody is. This is an endless frustration for most of us, myself included. The best advice I can give is the same thing I tell everyone involved in polyamory: open communication.

Even though you asked him what was up and he said “nothing,” there’s still space for a clear, honest conversation. But it’s not about him - the issue is that you have a need that isn’t being addressed. You liked it when he called you his girl, when he sent you cute pictures, and when he seemed really present to your time together. Now, he isn’t doing that, and you want him to. Be clear about what you’ve noticed, in a way that isn’t accusatory, and say that you miss the cute pictures and pet names.

Then give him space to respond. Don’t come to the conversation with a list of demands (“send me 3 cute pictures every 24 hours”) but as a question: what does he need in order to meet your needs like that? It may be just that the NRE (new relationship energy) has worn off for him, and he’s no longer trying to impress you with cute pictures and things, because you two are getting more settled in together. It may be that he’s just having a rough few days because of work or something that has nothing to do with you, and needs some time to not be focused on you. Maybe he has concerns or reservations about how things are between you two, and you haven’t noticed the problems he’s seeing. Or maybe he just didn’t realize how important those little demonstrations of affection were to you.

All of these explanations call for a different response. Once you know what’s up with each other, you can move forward. Maybe he needs you to adjust your expectations about his picture-sending and cuddling consistency. Maybe you need him to focus more on taking time to show you he cares. Maybe it’s a combination of both, or something I haven’t even seen that you two need to work on. But you won’t know that unless you talk things out, and “what’s going on with you” is rarely clear enough to count as open communication. 

I’ve been in a monogamous relationship with my boyfriend for almost a year now but lately I’ve been considering a polyamorous relationship. We’ve been at an all time high together for a while now but I feel like a third person could possibly make it even better. We’re both bisexual so we could find someone we both love and are attracted to. I really want to discuss it seriously with him but I don’t know how to bring it up without seeming pushy or unhappy with how we already are. Any suggestions?

When it comes to communication, the best strategy is to be clear and open. Tell him you’ve been thinking about this lately, and outline what your hopes and desires would be in a best-case-scenario. However, be clear that this is your best case scenario. Keep in mind that just being bisexual doesn’t mean a person necessarily wants a poly or open arrangement, so avoid making assumptions about his needs and wants based on that.

Tell him what you told me: that you’ve been very happy with how the relationship is going, and this doesn’t mean you’re unhappy with him or feeling unfulfilled. It’s just the opposite - because things are so happy and healthy, you think the two of you are in a good position to try something new together.

While you talk, be sure to check in with him frequently. Make space for him to be open and honest with you. Don’t be defensive or dismissive if he voices concern. Make the goal of the first conversation to have both of you share your thoughts about this in a way that is understood by the other person - don’t come at it like the goal is to convince him.

Will it come off as manipulative to play a game of “How would you feel if I dated/slept with ____”? We’re getting started with poly again and he isn’t very good about communicating his needs, but I need to know his boundaries.

This one will be short and sweet:

1.) If you’re worried about whether something seems manipulative, it probably is. That kind of conversation isn’t necessarily manipulative (and should happen in any healthy poly relationship) - but if you’re doing it to trick, wheedle, coerce, etc. - then there’s a problem.

2.) If he’s not very good at communicating his needs, he’s not ready to be in a poly relationship. The onus is not on you to cajole him into communicating his needs and boundaries. If you’re this worried about how to have this basic conversation, the relationship is not ready to be opened up.

This issue here is not how to word specific questions - it’s the fact that you can’t have a clear, open, honest conversation about needs and boundaries. That needs to be solved, not patched over.

so my fiancee and I recently discovered that we were extremely connected sexually and emotionally to our best friends who are also engaged. we all decided(after a couple nights of long talks and mini fights) that we would like to be in a more intimate relationship than just friendship. we’re not sure what to call this. we’re still all new to this, but we know we are 100% ready and excited. do you have any tips to ease into this and make this as easy as possible? Thanks for the help!

Congrats on being open and adventurous enough to try this out! As for what to call this, one of the cool things about being on the fringe of society is that lots of things are still pretty fluid, one being the vocabulary of this new world. Call yourselves a quad, a foursome, a fuck-square, a double-duo, couples squared, a network, a hergle dableegle. Call each other lovers, partners, friends, family, swingers, bed buddies. Call it what you want! Own it, embrace it, claim it, name it.

As for tips: open and honest communication is key key key. I know I sound like a broken record, but that’s really the most important thing. Often, people see “communication” as a one way street: the onus is on the person doing the talking, saying how they feel and what they need. But it’s equally on the listener to create an open, safe space for the other person to share. You can disagree with, feel hurt by, or not like what someone has to say, but not the fact that they said it. It’s a nuanced distinction but makes all the difference.

Something else that can damage arrangements like this is a sense of obligation. Everyone should have the right to say no. Maybe one of you just wants to have a quiet night in, cuddling and watching Netflix. It’s okay for that person to speak up and ask for that, even if someone else already has the gimp suits out. You don’t have to live up to some external ideal of what the arrangement means. Take breaks, check in with each other, give yourselves space to figure out what healthy looks like for you four. What a lovely situation to find yourselves in, and I wish you all the best of luck.

I’ve dated about 7 guys within the past 5 years & I got bored with each of them except one. The guy I am currently dating is great but sometimes I don’t feel satisfied & desire attention from others w/o realizing. It makes me feel bad but I can’t help it. Could I be poly?

It’s entirely possible that you’re poly. But that’s not the first conclusion I’d draw from your message. You say you get “bored” with the guys you date. Being poly doesn’t mean we get bored more easily than monogamous folks, or that we need more attention. It means that when we are in a relationship, and we find ourselves interested in someone else, we don’t see those as mutually exclusive desires.

So if you’re really just feeling bored and unsatisfied in relationships, the problem is not that you’re stuck being monogamous, it’s that you’re stuck in boring and unsatisfying relationships. Maybe you keep dating boring and unsatisfying people. Maybe your definition of relationships, or your behavior when in one, isn’t healthy for you. Try and figure out what it is that leads you to serial monogamy, that creates this need for attention and this perpetual unsatisfaction. I don’t know enough about you, or your relationships, to feel comfortable making any more specific guesses - but I can say that the common denominator in all these unsatisfying relationships is you, so your own needs, expectations, and practices would be the first place to start looking for answers.

Polyamory isn’t the cure for boredom. It doesn’t multiply the attention you get. It’s a relationship practice and an identity that carries its own responsibilities, definitions, requirements, and benefits, just like monogamy. It sounds like you may need to get to know yourself and your own needs better so you can engage in a healthy relationship where your needs for excitement and attention are appropriately met - whether that relationship would be mono or poly, I can’t accurately say.

Hi, I’m a mono fallen for a poly. He has a long-term primary partner and is interested in adding another primary relationship with me. I like him a lot, so I’m trying whether this can work for me (I’m still a little unsure whether it’s possible for me to be poly). I haven’t met his primary partner yet, but it feels that it’s time to do so. So here’s my question: Do you have any advice how to best get to know your lover’s primary?

What a lovely question! I think you’re going into this with the perfect attitude. Too often, I see people who identify as mono approach poly relationships with a sort of self-blinding enthusiasm, trying to stamp out all apprehensiveness and run shrieking into it. Or, I see them go into it entirely reluctantly, expecting it to fail miserably, but trying it out for the sake of their partner. You seem to have a healthy balance of open-mindedness and self-awareness. So major kudos for that.

To answer your actual question: like you’d meet anyone else, basically! Do something low-key that lets you talk comfortably, like meeting for a meal. Restaurants are neutral ground, as well, which is good - but if you think you’d enjoy having them over or going to their place, there’s nothing wrong with that. I’d suggest having your partner go along too, mostly for conversational lubricant, but if you are worried that you might feel uncomfortable or territorial seeing them together, meeting the PoP (partner of partner) one on one for the first time is also fine.

It really comes down to knowing what you’re most comfortable with, which can sometimes be hard to figure out - but getting to know and articulate your own needs is a wonderful thing to practice anyway, whether or not you choose to enter this polyamorous relationship.

Once you meet, just be yourself and get to know them like you’d do with anyone else. You already have something major in common - you like the same person! - so it’s likely you share some interests as well. Since this person has been in a poly relationship for a long time, they will likely be more relaxed about getting to know you, and hopefully patient and understanding about any awkwardness.

It’s okay to feel weird about it, since our culture sends us a lot of toxic messages regarding how we should feel about this kind of situation, but if you keep an open mind and let the conversation unfold naturally, you may discover that this person is just another person, one your partner cares for, and someone you can grow to like as well. Or, you may feel uncomfortable and dislike the whole situation, which is okay as well. You know best what you’re okay with, and you don’t owe it to anyone to get involved in something that isn’t what you want. But at least you’ll know that you figured that out for yourself after checking things out, which is a great feeling.

Hi there! I’ve been seeing a guy for 1.5yrs. We are sexually and emotionally intimate. We know its more than casual sex, and we have discussed a “relationship”, but he says he can’t give that kind of commitment. In my mind, what we have is already a form of relationship and commitment. Perhaps it is just monogamy he doesn’t want? I identify with being poly, which he is unaware of. I don’t think he knows what poly means. Would bringing up the idea of a poly relationship help clear things up?

You might be completely right that it’s monogamy that he doesn’t want, and his skittishness at “committing” is really an unwillingness to give up the ability to sleep with and/or date other people. In that case, bringing up polyamory would be a great way to test the waters. Or, it could be that he sees “commitment” as a signal that you two are projecting a future together, almost like signing a contract for a set period of time vs. entering an “at-will” agreement. Or, he could be feeling skittish about something else that falls under the umbrella that is his definition of “relationship.” You need to find out his definition of relationship before you’ll know any of this for sure.

I think suggesting polyamory would be a good first step to open up this conversation, but simply giving him permission to date or sleep with other people isn’t a complete solution to your problem, which is fundamentally one of communication rather than unmet requests. It struck me that though you two have been together for so long, your lines of communication aren’t open enough for you to share your poly identity. You don’t say why, so I won’t speculate - but I think this lack of openness between you is at the core of the issue.

The issue here is this: You aren’t getting your needs met. You want a defined relationship, but he’s refusing. And the solution is this: communication. Explain to him what, exactly, you want that you’re not getting. If your relationship makes you perfectly happy as is, except you just want to call him your boyfriend, discuss that. If you want to take things “to the next level” and get things from him that you don’t currently, explain clearly what those things are.

Then invite him to communicate back: ask him what his definition of a “relationship” is, and what kind of “commitment” it includes that he doesn’t feel ready for. That allows for a productive conversation where you can both lay your cards on the table and figure out truthfully whether you both want the same thing, where compromises might be made, and what the healthiest forward direction can be. Terms like “relationship” and “commitment” here are so nebulous that you two first need to figure out what you’re really talking about, and where your definitions differ, before you can start making requests or promises to each other.

Good luck with this conversation! Remember to give each other space to speak without judgment or expectations, and stand your ground when articulating your needs. Hopefully you can take this relationship to a place where you two can openly recognize and further cultivate the connection you’ve already established.

I recently talked to my partner about being poly and I don’t think he really understands. Do you have any good articles or resources you could point me to to help him along?

I really need to make a Resources page. In the meantime:

Grab a copy of The Ethical Slut - it’s a great introduction for people just starting out with polyamory. Other people like Opening Up, but I’m less of a fan - your mileage may vary.

More Than Two also has a good set of introductory essays and FAQs for people new to the idea of polyamory. (This used to be on Xeromag and is one of my favorite poly-newbie resources).

Freaksexual has a pretty extensive start-from-the-very-beginning guide to polyamory.

Those are the best suggestions I have for you, considering that you feel that your partner doesn’t really understand where you’re coming from. Other sites with lots of resources, like Modern Poly and Practical Polyamory, can be pretty overwhelming at first but would be great resources for you.

Good luck! Sometimes this early learning curve can be really exciting and rewarding if you both go into it with a spirit of adventure and honesty.

Hey! For some time now my boyfriend and I have been in a monogamous relationship with each other…well so I thought. We have been together for 7 months and I recently found out that he sleeps with his bestfriend/companion/ex-boyfriend. Basically, they used to have feelings for each other and now it is close friendship with cuddling and the occasional mutual masturbation. However, most recently (my boyfriend’s bestfriend) and I made out during a mutual sexual encounter, is this poly?

That’s not really a question I can answer for you! If the situation works for you guys and feels good and everyone feels secure and happy and fulfilled, then feel free to consider yourselves poly. Dan Savage suggests the term “monogamish” for people with the arrangement you have, and “open relationship” might also work. It’s up to you guys to self-identify. Sometimes labels can be helpful to define the terms of what’s going on, other times they’re extraneous, and just “a person who does what seems like the right thing to foster joy all around” is enough of an identification.

The only thing that would prevent that from being polyamory would be any kind of lies, deceit, selfishness, irresponsibility, or any shade of cheating, on anyone’s part. If all of you are not being open about what’s going on, if you haven’t laid out for yourselves and each other your desires, needs and expectations in all of this, if anyone is getting hurt or being kept in the dark - that’s not poly. It’s not really clear from your story how much honesty and communication is going on, so I suggest that you talk to your partner about all this, ask him if he considers this arrangement to be polyamorous, and put all the cards on the table.

I’ve sent a couple questions and just wanted to say thank you for your answers! They have really helped me. I’m still having issues dealing with all the physical stuff but I’m working on it. I guess my question would be, do you know of any solid ways to deal with the jealousy? I know communication is key (and we will be doing A LOT of communicating) but should I take up a hobby or something??

This is such a genuine and sweet question. I love it. I’ve already covered lots of more abstract ways to deal with jealousy - communication, introspection, etc. - but as for solid, concrete, actionable ways to deal with jealousy, I’d say taking up a hobby is a good one! It will start out as maybe just a distraction to keep you from feeling alone and keep your mind off the jealousy, but you might find that when you stay busy, your partner having other partners comes as almost a relief! When I was a student juggling dozens of responsibilities, I often had to forgo time with my partners in favor of meetings and work and so forth. I didn’t feel guilty about it and they didn’t pressure me to carve out more time for them than I could at the time, because they had other places to find companionship. I’m not saying that polyamory allows you to blow off your partner, or that cramming your schedule is the healthiest way to deal with feelings, but if you have things that you enjoy independently and ways to occupy your time that don’t revolve around your partner, that will help!

Another thing that I’ve found to help is to dig into your own polyamorous or poly-lite feelings. Even if you don’t identify as poly, recognize the moments in your life that help demonstrate the way your partner’s feelings for other people are not a threat to you. Check out the sexy barista at Starbucks. Go ahead, appreciate that. Then do a libido-check and see if you’re still as attracted to your partner as you were before you took a moment to enjoy coffee-cutie. Chances are, you will be! Think about an ex you had an amicable breakup with. Smile about their good qualities. Spend time with a beloved best friend and make note of how happy they make you, and how that deep care for another person isn’t crowding out your feelings for your partner. For a lot of people, that sort of emotional exercise can help serve as the “proof” they need that their partner’s polyamory isn’t something to feel threatened or jealous about.

Also, if you haven’t already, read essays, articles and blogs by and about people who are happily poly. If there’s a poly meetup in your area, check it out. It might help to see that you aren’t alone, that this arrangement works for other people, and to maybe reach out and make some friends who you can share this with. I know my poly life has been greatly enriched by having a very good friend who is also poly. Having someone to talk to about the unique issues that come with polyamory, like the ones you’re dealing with, can really help. A varsity-level version of the “make poly friends” method is to meet your partner’s partners. Becoming friends with them is a sure-fire way to knock jealousy’s lights out for good. “Be friends with your partner’s partners” might seem really intimidating, or even impossible, but I’ve never seen it not work!

You should also try practicing compersion - feeling happy for your partner because something, or someone, else is making them happy. I use “practice” with both meanings - adopt it as a way of thinking, and try it again and again until you get it. It doesn’t come naturally to everyone, but it can be learned. You want your partner to feel happy and fulfilled, so try to feel grateful to the other people in the world who help further that purpose. Remember that this is not a zero-sum game, and if someone else makes them happy, it doesn’t mean you make them less happy. It just means they’re happier overall!

I’m glad that I was able to help you & hope I can continue to be a resource and poly friend to you. Your partner is very lucky to have someone who’s so self-aware, honest and willing to work on all of this.

Hello Poly Advice. I’m a young woman that has been practicing polyamory for over half a year now, but only recently have I been branching out to be the crazy sex animal I want to be. I’ve connected with a few of the people I have gone on dates and met with and such, and a few of them identify as monogamous, but are willing to try, or looking for something new, or wanting to explore, etc. Essentially, they are not experienced in this. 

This has been making me nervous/uncomfortable. Sometimes I feel like someone’s collage experiment. You know, that crazy weird thing they want to try that one time. I’ve had a partner that was very dear to me break things off because they were new to the dynamic and felt they couldn’t handle it emotionally. This hurt very much. I don’t want to be someone’s manic pixie dream girl leading them into adventures, and I don’t want to feel guilty for exploring other people.

At the same time, I was them once. And if I didn’t have someone willing to give me a chance I wouldn’t be the person I am now, and this is a person I’m proud to be. So I feel like I am being harsh on these people that are willing to open up to me and try something unfamiliar to them. Do you have any advice for this situation? That would be appreciated.

This is a problem that almost all poly people face eventually, and it’s especially prevalent among young poly people. I’ve heard it referred to as being someone’s “gateway poly” or “training wheels poly." I deal with this all the time - I meet someone, they like me, I like them, they want to "try things out,” I lend them my copy of The Ethical Slut, we have lots of long talks about how they’re feeling, and then either they blossom into an awesome poly person with my help, or the whole thing collapses into a messy breakup. 

Your conflicted feelings are very natural and understandable - you don't owe it to anyone to expend your time and emotional energy on someone who’s just testing the waters, and yet you’re glad that the people who helped you out took the time and energy to do so. Ultimately, your biggest responsibility is to yourself. You’ve had wonderful people in your past, and you can be the wonderful poly-fairy-godmother to other people, but you are not obligated to be that for everyone. It’s hard, especially as a younger poly person, because most people we meet and want to date/hook up with are not poly, so if we want that relationship/sex, we have to guide them into it. Usually, refusing to be someone’s training wheels means that you never get to ride that bike. But it’s always up to you to decide whether that time and effort is worth it. 

It can be very rewarding to help someone start their polyamorous adventure, to be a stable presence while they figure out their sexual identity, to teach them how to take advantage of things you love, and to get plenty of sex out of the deal. It can also be intensely frustrating and dramatic. You can try to predict this - for example, if the person sees going poly as a “sacrifice” they must make to be with you, that probably won’t end well. If they demonstrate immaturity, emotional illiteracy, selfishness, codependence, or other poly-threatening traits about other things, that probably won’t end well. If they seem to be seeing you as an adventure or an experiment, that probably won’t end well. But you can’t always predict these things, as you’ve discovered.

It’s a big risk to take with someone, with either a fantastic payoff or a very painful failure. No kind of relationship is risk free. Only you can decide whether that risk is worth taking. You can either decide on a strict personal policy - refusing to be anyone’s gateway poly, or gracefully backing out after a certain length of time if things are still not going smoothly - or you can play it case by case. Does this person seem genuinely invested in trying this out with you? Is the hope for the best-case-scenario worth risking the worst-case? Are you in a good place with your other relationships and obligations that you can take the extra time and energy with this person? Is this something you feel like doing right now?

You seem to have a really good handle on the situation - you clearly articulated all the sides of the issue, and you know where your feelings are coming from. I think if you keep your head clear going into new things, and if you stay aware of the risks, you can have a lot of good times while minimizing your heartbreak. (But there will be heartbreak. I had a boyfriend break things off after a year and a half when he suddenly realized he didn’t want to be poly anymore. I got stood up in an Irish fishing town. You’ll survive.) Be open and clear with your partners about your needs as you’re teaching them to do the same, and don’t let anyone treat you in a way that you don’t like. Being new to poly doesn’t excuse people from being selfish, demanding, or demeaning, so while you will feel the need to be a little bit more patient and gentle with newly poly folks, you should never roll over on the issue of your own feelings and needs.

Oh, and buy a few extra copies of The Ethical Slut - you’ll be lending those out a lot.